Perseverance: Ironman Arizona

"You’re not going to climb the mountain because you want to beat the clock, you climb the mountain because it's there and bloody hard." – Alex Zanardi

Someone added me to an Ironman Arizona facebook group about a week before the race. I don't know if this is a common thing or an anomaly but athletes were posting left and right: their worries, their weather predictions, their travel plans and nutrition plans and workout plans that got them to the start line. In true triathlete fashion, there was over-sharing, lots of it.

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I've never really seen this side of triathlon. Sure, I had some pretty crazy worries and the occasional nightmare leading up to my first full ironman but never any massive doubts. And these folks were laying it out there—a surprising number of first timers opening up about their concerns. Honestly, it made the slowtwitch population seem cool as a cucumber.

Sometimes we’re so deep in the training and the racing that we forget how amazing Ironman truly is at the end of the day. This group was a great reminder. It put the thought in my mind that no matter how sucky my day was going last Sunday, that others were dealing with way much more and that if I kept putting one foot in front of another, no matter how slow the time or low the placing, I was still doing a pretty amazing thing.

I’m not going to turn my nose up at my first professional race or a 10:20 Ironman but Sunday ultimately was all about a learning experience and prepping me for my 2015 racing season. And as Sonja yelled at me out on the race course, “you only get one debut—make it count!” and while I'm not entirely sure I made it count (confession: motivation was not high post-Kona, leading up to race day—I was too ready for the off-season), I think it made me realize the type of work it’s really going to take to be successful. And that’s ultimately what this past weekend was all about, teeing up the off-season.

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But let’s back up. Race week started with a breakfast panel, where I got to sit on the same panel with Chris Lieto and a group of other very talented triathletes.We spent the first hour really talking with the other athletes at our table over breakfast, before sitting on a panel and answering anything and everything about triathlon and racing.

It was pretty cool for me to be sitting alongside Chris since he also happened to headline the panel I attended at my very first triathlon back in 2011. It’s pretty amazing to think that just three years and change later of being involved in the sport, I’m making my own pro debut.

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After that was the pro meeting, where I tried to play it cool while sitting among so many idols and fast peeps I’ve been following so long. We were all herded into a tiny room while they ran through the course and the pro rules (not all too different from AG, just a longer draft zone). I've heard stories of the silly questions that get asked at the pro meetings but thankfully it was all pretty straightforward and we breezed through it.

That evening it was time with Team HPB at the Rubin’s, who were also hosting me for the weekend and were the BEST ever. I could not have asked for a better host, with Marc as the perfect Sherpa on race day and his wife Susannah making sure everything was perfect at their house (which it was). The "entertainment"—aka Rubin's hilarious kids—also kept things light leading up to race day with jokes clearly shoplifted from South Park or some other low-brow equivalent ;)

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On race day, I got to put the little “P” on my left calf and rack my Blue and my gear on the pro racks. It was funny: felt like a dream come true but in reality I was going about my business no differently than had I been racing age group, just racked in a different spot. I also stood in the porta-potty lines for 30-minutes, before being told that apparently the pros have their own set of porta-potties. I stayed in line but that’s definitely something to investigate for next time! ;)

The swim was rough. I started behind a few of the girls on the right but when when the gun went off I didn’t like my options so peeled off and hopped on the feet of a group to my left. About four buoys in, I failed to realize I had most likely hopped on the feet of the 55’ group and was dropped shortly after. I then spent over half of the swim course just trucking on by my lonesome, praying that the age group men weren't going to catch up to me (which, thankfully, they never did). A few buoys past the turn-around I caught up to a male pro and then shortly after a female pro swam by and I slid onto her feet for a free ride most of the way home.

For the last ¼ of the swim course I let her pull me along and just cruised behind this great set of feet. I lost them a little bit with the last 2-3 buoys but came into the finish strong and came out of the water with Ulli Broome on my feet. I hopped on the bike but she was gone and there was no way I was keeping up with her.

The bike was rough. I didn’t see another athlete until 21 miles into the bike, when I was passed by the first age-group male. It was a true TT, head down, pushing on, only focusing on watts and effort and no one around me (because it was a no-mans-land, not by choice). The head wind was stiff heading out and then coming back there was a great tailwind, which meant a fast ride back.

There was no one to ride with, the only age group men strong enough to catch up and pass were blowing by me with no hope of riding legally behind them for the mental advantage. The entire ride, one pro female came by, sitting on the wheel of a handful of age group men blasting the past. I kept repeating to myself to ride strong, ride legally and keep trucking on.

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There was nothing special about the bike, mostly because I was riding solo. The only scary part was an aid station where I went to grab a bottle and was going a touch too fast and the volunteer holding a touch too tight and we dropped it as I rolled past. As I was reaching out to grab the next one, the dropped bottle rolled beneath me in the wind and hit my rear wheel. The volunteers gasped, I skidded out and beyond all probability, I managed to stay upright. I said a quick prayer and continued onward.

Onto the run, the first 5 miles I was hitting 8:00 miles with ease and holding back in order to stick to my race plan. Amanda went by, chatting about the race and asking how my bike went and all I could muster was “okay – we’ll catch up later” and she went blazing on her way to a well-deserved age group overall finish like it was NBD.

The run slowly went downhill, however. The concrete was doing a number on my legs and my pace was slowly creeping up. The first lap was lonely, with only the professional men lapping me for loop two on course alongside me. I passed another female pro and counted myself close to catching three others ahead. However, the girl I passed and the others I was gaining ground on ended up dropping out and DNF’ing. It was so frustrating—each time I got closer to moving “up” in the ranks, the pro ahead of me would drop out!

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The second loop was much better as we started to encounter more athletes on course and the run course was packed with spectators cheering loudly. I sucked it up for a few miles and took it home for the finish. A few high fives coming down the finish chute, I briefly celebrated Ironman #6 and Ironman #4 of the year.

Looking back, I probably was a bit foolish to kick off my first pro race after four consecutive Ironmans in five months—it's been a long, long year. Watching the Kona broadcast, there was a quote from the former race car driver, now wheelchair racer Alex Zanardi that I posted at the top of the page, "you're not going to climb the mountain because you want to beat the clock, you climb the mountain because it's there and bloody hard." That's what this whole pro experience is about for me—I'm not here to take the easy way out but instead I'm here to seek out that bloody hard challenge and Sunday certainly delivered, mentally and physically.

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In the end, I am so glad I stayed tough to the finish, even if it meant I was the very last professional female to finish. Just kidding—I was second to last! It wasn’t my fastest, or the most glamorous, but I got it done and that’s what I’m most proud about. I also learned a lot about my current strength and fitness and think I have the right amount of motivation to take into the offseason to ensure seriously hard work and significant progress over the next few months to tee me up for 2015.

In the meantime, I am still hobbling around like an 80-year-old lady four days later. Something about the concrete trashed my legs to where I am still struggling to walk normally. This time after Kona I was running no problem but this time around it's a totally different scenario! I've been Normatec'ing like no one's business and have a massage session tomorrow but hopefully I'll get some sort of break from this terrible calf/ankle pain shortly so I can get back to business!! This will be my first off-season where I'm not recovering from a crazy heat stroke/car accident/no exercise allowed type of incident, so I'm hoping good things will come of my first true offseason. I'm ready to put in the time to make a splash early next season!